The Yankees’ loss to the Red Sox in the AL Wild Card Game was a tough pill to swallow. We’ve all experienced our fair share of Yankees’ postseason exits. After each of the exits in 2017 through 2020, I felt anger, shock, but also still a smidge of hope for the next season. After Tuesday night’s loss, however, I experienced some emotions I hadn’t felt after the preceding four losses — resignation, finality ... and even relief. So where did it all go wrong?
One could point their finger at any number of reasons for the loss at Fenway. Gerrit Cole got only six outs. A bad coaching decision cost them a run and killed a rally. The bullpen gave up three runs. But in my mind, the number one culprit for the Yankees’ postseason exit was the same issue that dogged the team for stretches all season long — an anemic offense.
During the worst stretches of the regular season, the offense seemed to sleepwalk their way through at-bats, games, and entire series. They scored around a full run less per game than the average of the last three seasons. Outside of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, they failed to receive consistent production from any other hitter in the lineup.
That is why the loss at Fenway was such a familiar picture. Judge and Stanton provided four of the team’s six hits. The four-through-nine hitters went a collective 1-for-20 with eight strikeouts. Let’s take a look at how exactly that played out at the plate.
A big complaint about the Yankees during the regular season was that the hitters were too passive against hittable pitches in the zone. To often, they seemed to let center-cut fastballs go by early in the count. Pitchers could steal a first-pitch strike, meaning the Bomber batters were playing catchup in too many at-bats.
Something I'll be watching for tonight:— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) October 5, 2021
Eovaldi has the 8th best first pitch strike% in baseball.
The Yankees only swing at the first pitch 26.1% of the time; the lowest rate in baseball.
Will Eovalid be able to steal first pitch strikes or will the Yanks get more aggressive?
The Yankees swung at the first pitch 43.8% of the time tonight.— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) October 6, 2021
That's the 2nd highest first pitch swing rate they had for any game in the 2021 season.
Well, that certainly wasn’t the case against Eovaldi. They opted for a hyper-aggressive approach, attacking almost every pitch thrown in the zone. The problem is that not all these hacks were quality swings. Swinging at a pitch in the zone means nothing if you’re not making decent contact. Just look at the results against Eovaldi’s fastball:
Sure, many of these fastballs are well-located, but an equal number are thrown right down Broadway. I see a whole lot of whiffs, foul balls, and outs. In fact, the Yankees managed only one hit against Eovaldi’s fastball. He dared them to hit the heater, and they couldn’t.
The Yankees were known all year for their disciplined approach, which is why it is bizarre said gameplan was abandoned Tuesday night. They led the league with a 10.2-percent walk rate ... and then failed to draw a single walk in the Wild Card Game. They went one-two-three in five of the nine innings — seeing no more than 15 pitches in any of those frames — and ultimately failed to make the opposing pitcher work.
Boston needed only 113 pitches across five pitchers to complete the game. That’s just not putting enough pressure on the opposition pitching staff. And it’s such a stark contrast from the regular season. The Yankees led the league in pitches per plate appearance (4.1), yet that fell to 3.4 against the Red Sox.
But wait, you might say, don’t these two things contradict one another? How can I criticize the Yankees for too passive AND too aggressive? Well, I’d argue their hitters were not selective enough Tuesday night. How many times have we heard the mantra “control the zone” repeated during Aaron Boone’s tenure? At its simplest, it boils down to doing damage on pitches one can barrel, and not swinging at those one cannot. The Yankees failed to do the latter at Fenway, and now their season is over.
The worst part about the loss on Tuesday was that we could all kind of see it coming. Were any of us truly surprised at the manner in which the Yankees were dumped out of the playoffs? In a way, the game mirrored the most troubling trend of their regular season, something they’ll now have plenty of time to evaluate. All we can do as fans is hope the organization will take the necessary steps to address the shortcomings in time for next year.